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How Madlab Helped 55-Year-Old Darryl Sjerven Thrive Through COVID-19 and Beyond

 "Dude, I know the place for you. You need to come train with us."

That's what Rob Sugimoto often told his friend Darryl Sjerven.

But 55-year-old Darryl brushed him off. The thought of joining a gym at his age, with no athletic history to his name, terrified him.

“Then one day, he got me on the right day. He wanted to become a trainer, and so I fooled myself with the notion of, ‘I’ll help Rob,’” Darryl said, laughing.

There was something bigger going on, however. Darryl, a sober recovering alcoholic, had also recently lost both his parents and had begun “really looking at how I lived my life and what my level of self-care was,” explained Darryl, a realtor of 18 years. In other words, he needed a "slump buster," as he called it. 

Still, he couldn't shake the fear.

“I’m a decent-sized guy with good personal confidence, so that’s not what you may see from the outside, but inside the lack of familiarity with any gym or training equipment or scenario was really off-putting and frankly, kind of scary,” he said.

He took the leap anyway and began personal training with T-Bear and apprentice coach Rob, and after a few months of personal training, Darryl made the leap to group training.

The moment he did, he was impossible to ignore: Darryl began showing up three to four days a week, every day looking a little more comfortable than the last, every day his smile growing a little bit bigger. He quickly got to know the others in the early morning classes and became known for his self-self-deprecating humour and light-heartedness. 

But there is another side to Darryl that became apparent pretty quickly, as well: He has the most generous heart and a thoughtfulness that catches you off guard.

One time, after having coached Darryl for just a few months in my morning classes, he showed up with a card and a Starbucks gift card for me to use in the airport on the trip I was about to go on.


When COVID-19 hit and we switched to online Zoom classes, Darryl returned to his state of intimidation. He wasn’t sure about this Zoom class thing, and he held off joining in for a week or two.

“The last thing I wanted was to be on camera working out,” he said.

But after some coaxing from TBear, and knowing now more than ever he needed to be fit, he committed to trying three classes as a trial run, giving himself the license to stop if he didn't enjoy them.

Three classes became four, four became five, and soon he became a staple in my 7 am class, always showing up with his classic positive energy.

 “What I quickly discovered was no one is looking at you. They are too damn busy doing their own thing to be watching you. You aren’t working out on CNN.”

(It also helped that half the time Darryl turned his screen upwards so there was no chance of me seeing more than the top of his head).

And quite quickly, Zoom classes became his COVID "lifeline,” he said. “They really were just about the best part of my day. Don’t tell my family that.”

On a serious note, working out through the pandemic helped him deal with his ADD, he said.

“I have ADD. And not the ‘I have a hard time paying attention to your story’ crap. I mean real ADD. It’s a struggle. There are times when trying to have a real train of thought is like trying to push cooked spaghetti back through the strainer. And with ADD comes the inclination to kind of follow a train of thought to some reasonably dark places in times of stress and anxiety. Hello COVID!” said Darryl, who not only joined the Zoom classes four days a week through lockdown, but he also started running on the other days.

“I have a responsibility to manage (the anxiety). I didn’t need to just be a good dad or husband, I needed to be a good roommate and not suck up all the oxygen in the room, so to speak. Working out really helped with that, both in terms of the physical element, but also in terms of connecting with some people outside my home and family and getting some perspective and maintaining connection to keep me out of the rabbit hole," he added.

To say Darryl’s self-care in life has improved since joining Madlab exactly a year ago is an understatement. As I mentioned at the start, Darryl is a recovered alcoholic, who has been sober since 2000, and continues to be a member of a recovery program.

“At this point, sobriety isn’t about trying to not drink. The days of wanting to do that are long past. Now sobriety to me is about being healthy in all its various forms. A healthy me is a happy me. Starting my day off on the right foot is key to that, and I consistently have my best days on the days I started with a workout,” he said.

“And I think it’s pretty remarkable that with the total absence of any sort of athletic foundation, I have been able to work my way into a full-time fitness program alongside people who have been doing this their whole life. And in a fun, meaningful way without injury."

Darryl added: “I marvel at that because I didn’t give the coaching team much to work with. They were able to make that a reality for me, and I’m grateful. Joining a gym for the first time at my age really took me out of my comfort zone…That’s where the magic happens.”